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QRD #51 - Indie Comics Interview Series
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Indie Comic Creators Interviews:
Kimberlee Traub
Liz Suburbia
Michael Anthony Carroll
Mike Kitchen
Sloane Leong
Troy Little
Wayne Wise
Blair Kitchen
David Lawrence
Dawn Best
Gary Scott Beatty
Jack Knifley
Jason Strutz
William Schaff
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Interview with Indie Comic Creator David Lawrence
June 2011
Name: David Lawrence
City: Pittsburgh...home of the  six-time six-time six-time world champion Pittsburgh Steelers!  Sorry, we Pittsburghers are like that.  Though as I watch the union protesters in Madison Wisconsin I feel a lot better about that Super Bowl XLV loss to the Packers.
Comics: Currently Mercy Thompson: Moon Called & Alpha & Omega: Cry Wolf.  Both are 8 issues adaptations of novels by urban fantasy author Patricia Briggs, a fine writer & an even better person.  Also working on a graphic novel in Karen Monings Fever series for Del Rey. 
Websites: N/A

QRD How old were you when you first got into comics & did you always stick with them or did you come back to them?  What was the first comic book you ever bought?

David When I was growing up they were everywhere.  I was always aware of them so there was no single moment of discovery.  I began reading them regularly in about 1971, when I was 10.  I can only place it that exactly because it was right at the time that Jack Kirby went to DC.  I was home sick from school for several days & one night my father bought me a stack of comics.  For whatever reason that was when I got hooked.
It was a pretty steady love affair for about 15 years.  I drifted away in the late eighties, I guess.  You can only read so many Batman or Spider-man stories before you kind of feel like youve read them all.
These days my comic book reading is pretty much limited to hardcover collections of Jack Kirby classics.  I dont buy the Marvel stuff though, because they treated Jack pretty shabbily.  I got to meet his original partner Joe Simon at New York City Comic Con last year.  That was a real thrill.  Got to meet the great Jerry Robinson, creator of the Joker, too.
I was at a banquet once with Jack in attendance, at San Diego Con in the late eighties.  He didnt seem to feel well & his family seemed concerned so I let him be.  God, what I wouldnt have given to meet him!

QRD How old were you when you put out your first comic?

David My brother Marc & I used to write & draw our own as kids.  He was a pretty good artist.  But nothing ever came of that.  My first published work was in the black & white boom years.  I guess it was 1986 so I was 25.  That was Ex-Mutants.  Of course, as things turned out that was nearly my last, too!

QRD What decade do you think produced the best comics?

David How do you pick?  Every era is different, with its own charms & own weaknesses.  Theres such a fun & vitality to stuff of the early Golden Age but a lot of it is crap, too.  Did you ever read the first issue of Captain Marvel Adventures?  Not the Whiz Comics premiere, but the first issue of his own title.  It is awful.  & it was produced by Simon & Kirby, for Gods sake, two of the all time greats.  But it was produced literally in a weekend, by Joe, Jack, & pretty much every other professional they knew.
But you had Joe & Jack working, you had Will Eisner, you had guys like Lou Fine & Reed Crandall & Jack Cole & Mac Raboy.  There was plenty of wonderful stuff around, though you had to dig through a lot of dross to find it.
The fifties were the era of EC, really a lot more sophisticated than most of what had come before & pretty much anything that would come again for a long time.  Its sad really what happened.  Comics were still absolutely everywhere, not the niche product they are today & were achieving a new maturity.  Then along came Dr. Wertham & whap!  Its kiddie time again.  By the time comics again creatively approached such a peak they had a much smaller audience.
The sixties are defined by the emergence of Marvel, the reemergence of Jack Kirby in partnership with Stan Lee, & the notion the comic companies characters all inhabited the same fictional universe.  Despite the superior quality of the work there were long term consequences, among them the virtual wipeout of genres other than the superhero, that have negative reverberations to this day.
I suppose my favorite era is the seventies, but of course it would be.  Thats when I grew up.  But Marvel was still riding high on the creative wave the sixties had established.  DC was growing up & catching up.  I really love the DC Comics of that era.  The Denny ONeil & Neal Adams team on Batman & Green Lantern.  ONeil & Curt Swan on Superman.  Their run is still my favorite Superman of all time.
In the eighties you have the emergence of independent & creator owned comics.  It was almost a repeat of the Golden Age.  Some incredibly creative, soaring stuff... & reams & reams of crap you had to sort through to find it.

QRD Why comics instead of just writing or drawing?

David Though I cant draw a lick I have a particular knack for telling a story with pictures.  I think more in images when I write than I do in words.  So I guess this medium is a natural fit for me.

QRD Do you see mini-comics & indie comics as paths to mainstream comics or as their own unique media?

David Um... both?  Im sure that a lot of people doing indie comics would love to do Spider-Man & just as many simply want to do their own thing & have no part of it. 

QRD How much do you think comics should cost?

David A lot less than they do.  They have certainly outstripped inflation.  In 1971 they cost 15 cents; today they cost $4.  Thats a 2500% increase!  Even gasoline hasnt gone up that much!
I think the traditional 32 page pamphlet is doomed.  Long form stuff, graphic novel collections & such, are going to outstrip them.  I know that in my first collaboration with Patty Briggs the collection sold more than twice as many copies as all four issues of the original run combined.

QRD How many books do you produce a year & how many would you like to?

David Again, what Im doing right now are mini-series.  Eight issues has been the standard for the most part, done in a bit under a year.  Id like to write a couple titles a month all the time, but that is no sure thing.

QRD Do you think stories should be serialized or delivered as complete works?

David I think I said this before, but um...both?  I try to create a complete story with a beginning, middle, & end each issue.  The end is often a cliffhanger, but I still try to build to a crescendo.  On the other hand, a couple of my very favorites among the stories Ive done were stand alone 8 pagers.  My god, what the greats like Kirby & Eisner & many, many others could accomplish in that many pages.

QRD How are comic strips different than comic books & which medium do you prefer?

David Sadly the adventure strip is virtually dead.  It had to be an incredibly difficult medium to work in.  Virtually the first third of every daily adventure strip was a recap.  So when you read a collection there is a lot of repetition.  But so many great creators came out of the strips.  Alex Raymond, Hal Foster, Burne Hogarth, Elzie Segar, Chester Gould in the early years.  There would have been no comic books without the comic strips & the great strips are generally accorded a higher degree of respect than their four-color cousins to this day.

QRD How long is it from when you start a comic until its printed?

David From start to finish for everyone involved about 5 weeks.  The scripting is quicker; usually about a week but sometimes more & sometimes less.  & when you are doing adaptations you have to factor in taking the time to actually read the book. 
& I usually work fairly closely with the artist, reviewing stuff & making suggestions as the pages come in.  Ive also been working as the go between with the novelist & the publisher on these titles because Ive been working with Patty for a couple of years.

QRD What do you better with your comics now than when you first started?

David I hope Im a better writer than I was 25 years ago.  Would be a shame if I wasnt.  Moon Called was actually the first adaptation Ive had published & Ive learned a lot.  What to leave in, what to leave out.  I frequently find I have to reorder events a bit.  Comic book story telling is more a straight line than a novel.  Even with 8 issues space is considerably more limited.
Weirdly, I started work on the other Briggs novel, Cry Wolf, first & completed 3 issues of scripts.  It was a much more difficult book to adapt for a bunch of reasons.  The artist wasnt working out so they went back to the drawing board, but I realized those scripts had a lot of problems as well.  So I had the chance to go back & rewrite them, using what Ive learned adapting the first novel.  Even though Im covering the same ground the scripts are way, way better the second time around. 

QRD At what point in the artistic process do you work digitally?

David Everything is digital to a degree these days.  When I started I wrote on a typewriter, mailed the script to the artist, who mailed it to the letterer, who mailed it to the inker, who mailed it back & then if it was in color we shot stats that were mailed to the colorist, who mailed them back, & finally we mailed the whole thing to the printer.
Now I write on a computer, e-mail the script to an artist, who may or may not draw with pencil & paper.  On Moon Called artist Amelia Woo does everything digitally, including colors.  Art is uploaded to an ftp & then the letterer does his job digitally.  Its all put together in the end as a hi-res PDF which is then uploaded to the printers FTP.  Only after the book is actually printed is there a physical object that ships somewhere.
On Cry Wolf artist Todd Herman draws with old-fashioned paper & pencil but then he scans his pages & uploads hi-res scans so the physical artwork again doesnt go anywhere.

QRD What do you think of digital comics & webcomics?

David Nobody really knows what the future holds.  I paid to attend a web comic seminar at a convention & it was the biggest waste of money ever.  It was basically two hours long on talk & short on particulars.  I think it makes little sense to do web comics without motion... but then you might as well include sound.  At what point does it stop being a comic & become animation?

QRD Do you prefer working in color or black & white?

David Color, but that might be as much snobbery as creativity.   A lot of black & white books just look like color books that nobody got around to filling in.  There are different techniques, different ways of using tones, different approaches to your line.  The difference is as stark as it is in black & white versus color filmmaking.  At least it should be.

QRD How many different people should work on a comic & what should their jobs be?

David There is no answer.  If you are Jack Kirby, three; Jack, an inker/letterer, & a colorist.  If youre not, a writer, an artist, possibly an inker, a letterer, a colorist, an editor.  The number means nothing.  Its the result.

QRD How do you find collaborators?

David Depends.  In the case of Amelia Woo I recommended her when we lost another artist halfway through a project.  We had never worked together but we had the same agent & I was familiar with her work.  Todd Herman on Cry Wolf, I literally was just doing some random googling to see who was out there that might fit.  I suggested we include him among the artists we gave try-outs.  On the other hand, I had no involvement at all in the selection of the artists who preceded them.
QRD How tight do you think a script should be as far as telling the artist what to draw?

David Relationships & collaborations are all different.  Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko did great stuff with very little input from the writer until he filled in the dialogue.  Alan Moore wrote 200 page scripts for 22 page comics.  Im somewhere in between.
I do work full script & consider it akin to a screenplay or teleplay.  Sometimes my descriptions are very detailed, sometimes its not much more than so & so talk for 6 panels.  I usually break that down to get the rhythm of the conversation working.
I link to a lot of reference, sometimes make detailed suggestions for layout, sometimes I just say big panel.  I have no issues with the artist making adjustments.  Often they come up with something that works far better than what I had imagined.
One thing I always like to do is sit down with the completed art & the script & make a final pass before it is lettered.  Sometimes its small adjustments, a dialogue balloon that works better if I move it from one panel to another.  Sometimes the art doesnt quite match up with the dialogue.  I also tighten up the dialogue at that point.  It sounds different in my head when Im looking at the pictures than it does without the art.

QRD What comic book person would you be most flattered to be compared to?

David Would you be even remotely surprised if I said Jack Kirby?

QRD What do your friends & family think of your comics?

David With most people its just kind of a vague thats cool.  Weirdly, it doesnt help at all with the chicks.

QRD What do you think of superheroes?

David They have their place, but I like a comic book universe with variety.  Ive really done very little costumed hero work in my career.  After Watchmen I kind of thought, Whats the point?  Nobody is ever going to top this.  Every thing that can be said in the genre has been said.
Other than Kirby I think the last comics I read were the collected Freak Brothers by Gilbert Shelton.  Another freaking genius.  Man, if you can get a hold of him that is somebody you ought to talk to!

QRD Marvel or DC?

David I have more of a soft spot for the DC universe.  But just the question limits your frame of reference.  Why dismiss the Golden Age Captain Marvel?  Why dismiss the Spirit?  Why dismiss EC?  Or even Warren, which did some really groundbreaking stuff in the early years.

QRD What comic characters other than your own would you like to work with?

David The Newsboy Legion with the Guardian.  Seriously, thats my first pick.  Popeye.  Star Trek.  Id love to do like one Batman story.  Ben Grimm is my absolute favorite Marvel character.

QRD Ideally would you self-publish?

David Nah.  Im too cheap.  Well, not cheap exactly.  Ask any bartender whos waited on me.  Risk averse is more accurate.

QRD What conventions do you try to attend & why?

David Usually do Pittsburgh because I live here.  New York Con.  Its relatively close & I love the town.  Any excuse to go to NYC is all right by me.  Done San Diego a few times.  Might do it this year because Patty Briggs is doing the show & weve done a lot of work together without getting the chance to meet.

QRD What do you do to promote your books?

David Well, I do have a publisher doing most of that, but Im always happy to take the time to talk to anyone about the books.  I think its a real honor when people are interested enough in what you are doing to take the time to sit & talk about it.

QRD Do you think your comics are well suited to comic shops or would sell better elsewhere?

David Id like the widest possible distribution through as many venues as possible.  The major problem with the direct sales system is that distribution network is so limited.  Kids arent just going to bump into comics at the drug store any more.  Were catering to the people who are already on board but not creating a new readership.

QRD What other medium would you like to see some of your comics made into (television, film, games, action figures, etc.)?

David Like any body else I would love to do a movie.  I do have some projects that have made the rounds, but nothing has come of it yet.

QRD Do you consider yourself a comic collector or a comic reader or both?

David Im a reader, period.  Its one of lifes greatest pleasures.  I dont understand the point of buying something & locking it up in plastic never to be seen.

QRD What do you see as the most viable mediums for comics distribution 10 years from now?

David I guess online.  Brick & mortar bookstores of all stripes are vanishing at an alarming rate.  They should probably be on the endangered species list.
Its weird.  I love going to a bookstore & browsing.  I can do it for hours.  But most of the time I just order on Amazon. 

QRD What would you like to see more people doing with comics?

David Buying them!  Reading them!  Sharing them with their friends!

Other QRD interviews with David Lawrence:
David Lawrence interview (November 2004)